Honor Thy Anger

Everyone gets angry, but not everyone expresses it correctly. Learn the key to expressing anger healthfully.

By Jammie Salagubang, published on June 3, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Jane blows up in uncontrollable rages, screaming, cursing and sometimes pushing the people around her at the slightest whisper of something wrong. Bob is sweetness personified and never seems to let his feathers get ruffled.

What do these two have in common? They both have problems with anger.

Many think the people with anger problem are the ones who yell, scream and get physically aggressive. But not showing your anger is an unhealthy way of dealing with anger.

You can’t avoid anger any more than you can avoid conflict, insists psychotherapist Beverly Engel in her book, Honor Your Anger. Yet many people still believe that being anger-free is the ultimate sign of emotional health. In fact, those who appear not to have a problem with anger are actually the ones most in need of help.

Some surprising things are red herrings for seeing red. Gossiping about others, swearing a lot and being a perfectionist are all signs of an unhealthy anger style, according to Engel. So is turning most of your conversations into debates and assuming others are against you.

Some other indicators that you have a problem with your anger:

  • You allow others to hurt you with their anger
  • You are afraid to express your anger
  • You find sneaky ways of getting back at people instead of expressing your anger directly
  • Your way of expressing anger leaves you feeling helpless and powerless
  • You allow others to emotionally or physically abuse your children

The key to expressing anger healthfully is to do it assertively; not aggressively or passively.

The first step in changing your anger style is to express it in the opposite way from what you normally do and to start out small. So if you don’t like confronting people, try expressing how you feel to rude strangers for a week. Then work up to a co-worker and/or your spouse.

The most effective way of expressing this emotion is to translate it into clear, non-blaming statements that establish boundaries. These statements should contain two thoughts: the fact that you are angry and the reason why, and what you want the other person to do about it. A simplified form could be, “I feel angry because________. I want you to ___________.”

Engel advises avoiding “you” messages as they put the person being addressed on the defensive, and can make the person saying them feel helpless. Using “I” statements help you take responsibility. You should also avoid name-calling, insults and using the words “never” or “always.”

Body language is also important to assertive anger communication. It’s best to maintain good eye contact and pay attention to your facial expressions and hand gestures. Keeping track of your tone of voice, volume and inflection is also a good idea.

Anger is a normal and healthy emotion, affirms Engel. It’s how we deal with it that turns it into a negative.